Lifesaving lessons and no burnout

July 31, 2005|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,SUN STAFF

Christine Flanagan was considering giving up teaching fire prevention when a house fire changed her mind.

"I wasn't sure the kids were getting anything out of it," she said recently. "Then one day after a house fire, the crew came back and said, `Chris, a little girl you taught saved her family's life.'"

The child told the firefighters how Flanagan had taught her what to do in the event of a fire - get everybody out of the house and call 911. The fire could have been deadly if the child hadn't remembered Flanagan's lessons.

"That was a wakeup call for me," said Flanagan, fire prevention lieutenant at Sykesville-Freedom District Fire Department, "That was the Lord's way of saying, `Chris, you are making a difference.' If I can save one life, then I have made a difference."

Last year, Flanagan's fire prevention programs reached more than 4,500 children and adults.

Flanagan, a member of the Sykesville company since 1997, was honored for her efforts last month when she received the Jane Todd Fire Woman of the Year Award for Fire Prevention from the Maryland State Firemen's Association Ladies Auxiliary at the annual firemen's association convention.

"I was very touched ... very surprised," Flanagan said. "This is not a single-person operation. I could not have done it without the support and help of the paid and volunteer members, and my husband and kids."

Flanagan spent more than 100 hours last year preparing lessons and teaching young pupils from the area's elementary schools, day care centers and preschools. She taught 24 days in October, Fire Prevention Month, until she came down with a case of bronchitis.

She teaches the proper use of a fire extinguisher at Home Depot and urges adults to check their smoke detector batteries every month and change them every six months. She also visits nursing homes to teach fire safety to the elderly.

At the Knights of Columbus Youth and Safety Expo in October, Flanagan and other firefighters taught fire prevention to 850 children and adults.

"This year, we expect 1,500 at the expo," said Flanagan, who is gearing up for the fall fire prevention season. "I already have schools calling to reserve dates."

When October comes, Flanagan will be ready with some new gadgets to teach the hundreds of youngsters who come through the firehouse. With grant money from the Department of Homeland Security, she purchased a remote-control Freddy the Firetruck, Sparky the Firedog suit, mini Hazard House and Buzzy the Smoke Alarm.

Flanagan and other firefighters will be at Tuesday's National Night Out event in Sykesville with a safety trailer to teach children home fire safety.

Most of Flanagan's teaching, however, is done at the firehouse, where she offers hands-on activities that help young children remember the lessons. For instance, she has a "get low and go" maze that the children crawl through to simulate escaping a house on fire.

Her firehouse lesson includes a Sesame Street puppet show on fire safety; instruction on "stop, drop, and roll"; fire drills; how to get out of a burning house safely; smoke detectors; and calling 911. The children also get a tour of the firehouse.

"She has such enthusiasm. People really listen and pay attention to her," said Sue Tarrant, president of the Sykesville Ladies Auxiliary, who nominated Flanagan for the award. "People don't realize how important fire prevention is. I was very proud. She really deserves it."

The auxiliary wrote a nomination letter and put together a scrapbook of Flanagan's fire-prevention activities last year, including newspaper articles, photos and letters from youngsters.

In addition to Flanagan's individual award, the Carroll County Volunteer Emergency Services Association's fire prevention program and committee Chairwoman Debbie Gartrell-Kemp won first place in the county competition at the association's convention.

Between teaching fire prevention, Flanagan, 38, also is an emergency medical technician, intravenous technician and firefighter, and has training in trucks, hazardous materials and rescues.

She is married to Bill Flanagan, and has 13-year-old twin daughters and a 16-year-old son, all of whom are involved in the fire department. She also is a certified nursing assistant in the emergency room at Carroll Hospital Center. The family lives in Eldersburg.

"You can balance being a mom, firefighting and full-time work," she said. "I tell my girls, `You can do anything you want to do.'"

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